The Valley of Death and the Art of the Pitch

11/19/12

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include business cards, an office, a business plan, or articles of incorporation. The most dynamic object associated with their business concept is the entrepreneur themselves.

The central ritual in startup culture is delivering an elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is a short presentation given by the entrepreneur of the problem a business addresses, the solution proposed, and an introduction of the team. Pitches also communicate more abstract qualities such as business savvy, technological wizardry, or likeability.

The style of dress and speech choices used while pitching follow specific cultural patterns. For technology-oriented growth companies, the preferred pattern is American college casual. Jeans, casual blazers, gym shoes and t-shirts are the consistent uniform. Jeans don’t need to be belted, but cannot be worn so that undergarments are showing. There is no flashy jewelry, are few tattoos, and the color palette is muted.

I found that pitches are typically delivered in English spoken at an undergraduate collegiate level. Colloquial speech may be used for effect. “Waiting SUCKS!” declared an entrepreneur pitching his new app. “We make customer service dead %$#&ing simple!” proclaimed a slide in another pitch deck. Such colloquialisms may only go so far. “We make customer service dead mother%$#&ing simple!” would be inappropriate. Speech is actively voiced, so you won’t hear “Customer service is made dead %$#&ing simple by our company!”

Pitching is an embodied experience. It takes mental preparation, but it is the presentation of one’s physical self in front of an audience. For the time of the pitch, you are not just yourself; you are the embodiment of the business that you are pitching. Your personal identity is merged with the concept. If you feel that your body is projecting uncertainty, you feel that you are presenting a business that is uncertain. If your pitch is accepted or rejected, you can feel as if you were personally accepted or rejected.

Pitching is ritual, not just because of its stylized activity, but because of its magical feel. It is typically intended to elevate the business and the self—using financial or social capital—to ultimate success. That higher goal, the connection with the audience, and the specificity of the action gives pitching a sacred feel. Like testifying in a Baptist church or calling down rain on thirsty crops, it is a transcendent experience of the mind, body, and spirit.

As startup entrepreneurs, we wake up every day to new challenges. What we face is as much about faith and magic as it is about finance and marketing. Remember to embrace change and to enjoy the journey.

Dr. Marlo Rencher is CEO of Good Sweat, a social fundraising platform for charity sports participants—people who run, walk and move for a cause. She is also a business anthropologist interested in entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @marlorencher. Follow @

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